A Taste for the Tiny – dummy boards in miniature

A tiny horse and hounds, about a foot across

Having said that I am going to devote this blog to dummy boards, I will digress from time to time and talk about other interesting ( to me at any rate…) things. If I am clever enough I might be able to tie in the subject to my main theme.

So let us start this post by saying that dummy boards come in all shapes and sizes; they come from many countries and they depict a multitude of subjects.

I’ve seen serving girls and soldiers, ( George counts as one of those ); Fine gentlemen and Fashionable ladies; pheasants and peacocks, lions, lyres and little babies.

Girl with candle. 18th c. 4ft. Private collection in the U.S.

There are roughly 14 different groups (which I have identified- so you can blame me for missing one if you manage to find another) to which a dummy board can belong. It may of course be included in several at once.We shall investigate these groups in the weeks ahead, on this blog.

  1. Servants- doing all sorts of things from cooking to sitting smoking a pipe.
  2. Sweeping Maids- although these are actually servants ( some of the time ) they can also be a totally separate group as there are so many of them.
  3. Seated figures ( doing a multitude of things ). See what I mean about being in many groups at once?)
  4. Children, perhaps the most common group to be seen today and the most endearing.
  5. Figures that were designed for the theatre.
  6. Animals from rabbits to lions.
  7. Soldiers of all denominations.
  8. The common folk, some of which may or may not be servants.
  9. Ladies and Gents- definitely not the common rabble. Some may be fashion plates, some portraits and some may be in regional costume.
  10. Saints and other religious figures
  11. Native American Indians- one of the most rare figures you can find.
  12. And THE most rare group of all- Sailors, Scotsman and Blackamoors ( figures of black people ).
  13. Inanimate objects like vases and piles of books.
  14. We also find some tiny, tiny figures. These can be figures which are made as curiosities or for display in a dolls house.

And that brings me neatly to my theme of the day!


Above you will see a tiny horse and hounds made in the late 19th century possibly the early 20th, from waxed card and held in private collection in the U.K. This dummy board ( missing its base ) is one of the smallest I have ever seen that has not been designed for a dollshouse. It is trompe l’œil in that it is making a stab at being realistic but of course we know it isn’t real and aren’t going to be taken in by it. Nevertheless, it’s an example of an historic miniature.On the main PastMastery site


You will see, when you go to the miniatures page, a positive plethora of tiny dummy board figures. These are all miniatures taken from full sized figures and have been scaled down, one inch to the foot, that is one twelfth, the size most often use for dolls houses and have been painted in oils on wood by me, in miniature.

The 18th c. painter Hogarth in miniature. 4 inches

The full sized dummy board, was invented, as we have said, at the beginning of the 17th century by the Dutch who liked to play around with trompe l’œil. These figures appeared in the houses of the wealthy, ( dummy boards were then as expensive as pictures for the wall) and they were as common as fine pieces of furniture or pretty bits of blue and white Delftware.

If you have a dollshouse and you fill it with furniture and bibelots, you would be missing out if you hadn’t got a dummy board too. All the best houses had them as far down as the 19th century- from one ( or more ) of the groups outlined above.

You could have a servant in the kitchen, a dog under the hall table and a fine lady standing on the landing.

Even today, these figures fetch high prices at auction and are avidly collected to decorate the modern real home be it a castle or a cottage.

Many people say to me that they don’t have the right sort of house for a miniature dummy board. WHAT IS THE RIGHT KIND OF HOUSE? If you have a 17th century townhouse, like one of those beautiful Hugenot weavers homes in London, you might have a servant in late 17th c. dress. If you have an 18th century mansion, the sort surrounded by acres of parkland, then you might have a fine lady in a Gainsborough frock or perhaps a gardener for your lawn. If your dollshouse is a Victorian one, you could have a dog sitting on a cushion, or perhaps a cook to stand by the range…even a pork pie to decorate the kitchen table. All of these above are available at PastMastery. (Thanks to Julie for allowing the photo her 5 inch Kitchen Maid to be featured here.)

The Kitchen Maid and the Pointer dog Hamlyn

Also-think about this……. how many things in your real life house have been handed down from previous generations? If your great grandmother’s china is still on display, then why not the dummy board that was made of her cat in the early 20th century? We hang on to things don’t we? We like antiques and memorabilia. It makes us feel connected with the past and the folk that have gone before us ; And for most people – that is important!

PastMastery will be at the Thame Miniature Fair this weekend 20th February 2010 – if you can…..come and see us!

Thame Dolls Houses and Miniature Fair

One Response to “A Taste for the Tiny – dummy boards in miniature”

  1. The Working Woman « Pastmastery's Blog Says:

    […] “A Taste for the Tiny”. […]

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